Gateway to the Classics: Display Item
Anna B. Comstock


The Tulip

Teacher's Story

We might expect that the Lady Tulip would be a stately flower, if we should consider her history. She made her way into Europe from the Orient during the sixteenth century, bringing with her the honor of being the chosen flower of Persia, where her colors and form were reproduced in priceless webs from looms of the most skilled weavers. No sooner was she seen than worshipped, and shortly all Europe was at her feet.

A hundred years later, the Netherlands was possessed with the tulip mania. Growers of bulbs, and brokers who bought and sold them, indulged in wild speculation. Rare varieties of the bulbs became more costly than jewels, one of the famous black tulips being sold for about $1800. Since then, the growing of tulips has been one of the noted industries of the Netherlands, and now the bulbs on our market are imported from Holland.

There are a great many varieties of tulips, and their brilliant colors make our gardens gorgeous in early spring. Although this flower is so prim, yet it bears well close observation. The three petals, or inner segments of the perianth, are more exquisite in texture and in satiny gloss on their inner surface than are the three outer segments or sepals; each petal is like grosgrain silk, the fine ridges uniting at the central thicker portion. In the red varieties, there is a six pointed star at the heart of the flower, usually yellow or yellow-margined, each point of the star being at the middle of a petal or sepal; the three points on the petals are longer than those on the sepals.

When the flower's bud first appears, it is nestled down in the center of the plant, scarcely above the ground. It is protected by three green sepals. As it stretches up, the bud becomes larger and the green of the sepals takes on the color of the tulip flower, until when it opens there is little on the outside of the sepals to indicate that they once were green. But they still show that they are sepals, for they surround the petals, each standing out and making the flower triangular in shape as we look into it. During storms and dark days, the sepals again partially close about the flower.

The seed-vessel stands up, a stout, three-sided, pale green column at the center of the flower, in some varieties, its three-lobed yellowish stigma making a Doric capital; in others, the divisions are so curled as to make the capital almost Ionian. The six stout, paddle-shaped stamens have their bases expanded so as to encircle completely the base of the pistil column; these wide filaments are narrower just below the point where the large anthers join. The anther opens along each side to discharge the pollen; however, the anthers flare out around the seed vessel and do not reach half way to the stigma, which is probably the tulips' way of inducing the insects to carry their pollen, since the bees cannot reach the nectar at the base of the pistil without dusting themselves with pollen.

The flower stem is stout, pale green, covered with a whitish bloom. The leaves are long, trough-shaped and narrow with parallel veins; the bases of the lower ones encircle the flower stem and have their edges more or less ruffled and their tips recurved; the upper leaves do not completely encircle the flower stem at their bases. The texture of the leaves is somewhat softer on the inside than on the outside, and both sides are grayish green.

After the petals and stamens are dropped the seed-vessel looks like an ornamental tip to the flower stem; it is three-sided, and has within double rows of seeds along each angle. The seeds should not be allowed to ripen as they thus take too much strength from the bulbs.


Tulip seed-capsule.

1. Tulip seed-capsule;   2. the same opened;   3. cross section of same.

The bulb is formed of several coats, or layers, each of which extends upwards and may grow into a leaf; this shows that the bulb is made up of leaves which are thickened with the food which is stored up in them during one season, so as to start the plant growing early the next spring. In the heart of each bulb is a flower bud, sheltered and cuddled by the fleshy leaf-layers around it, which protect it during the winter and furnish it food in the spring. This structure of the bulb explains why the leaves clasp the flower stem at their bases. The true roots are below the bulb, making a thick tassel of white rootlets, which reach deep into the soil for food and water.

Tulips are very accommodating; they will grow in almost any soil if it is well drained, so that excessive moisture may not rot the bulbs. In preparing a bed, it should be rounded up so as to shed water; it should also be worked deep and made rich. If the soil is stiff and clayey, set bulbs only three inches deep, with a handful of sand beneath each. If the soil is mellow loam, set the bulbs four inches deep and from four to six inches apart each way, depending on the size of the bulbs. They should be near enough so that when they blossom the bed will be covered and show no gaps. Take care that the pointed tip of the bulb is upward and that it does not fall to one side as it is covered. October is the usual time for planting as the beds are often used for other flowers during the summer. However, September is not too early for the planting, as the more root growth made before the ground freezes, the better; moreover, the early buyers have best choice of bulbs. The beds should be protected by a mulch of straw or leaves during the winter, which should be raked off as soon as the ground is thawed in the spring. The blossoms should be cut as soon as they wither, in order that the new bulbs which form within and at the sides of the parent bulb may have all of the plant food, which would otherwise go to form seed. Tulips may be grown from seed, but it takes from five to seven years to obtain blossoms, which may be quite unlike the parent and worthless, The bulblets grow to a size for blooming in two or three years; the large one which forms in the center of the plant will bloom the next season.



Lesson CLII

The Tulips

Leading thought—The tulips blossom early, because they have food stored in the bulbs the year before, ready to use early in the spring. There are many varieties; each is worth studying carefully, and we should all know how to grow these beautiful flowers.

Methods—These observations may be made upon tulips in school gardens or bouquets. The best methods of cultivating should be a part of the garden training. For this, consult the seed catalogues; also let the pupils form some idea of the number of varieties from the seed catalogues. Water-color drawings should be a large factor in studying the tulip. The red varieties are best for beginning the study, and then follow with the other colors; note differences.


1. What is the color of your tulip? Is it all the same color? Is the bottom of the flower different in color? What is the pretty shape of these different colors at the heart of the flower?

2. Look at a tulip just opening. What causes it to appear so triangular? Can you see that the three sepals are placed outside the petals? Is there any difference in color between the sepals and petals on the inside? On the outside? Are the sepals and petals the same in length and shape? Do you know the name given to this arrangement when sepals and petals look alike in color? Are the three petals more satiny on the inside than the sepals? Is the center part of the petal as soft as the edges?

3. When the tulip flower bud first begins to show, where is it? What color are the sepals which cover it? Describe the opening of the flower. Do the green sepals fall off? What becomes of them?

4. In the open flower, where is the seed-pod, and how does it look? How do the anthers surround the seed-pod, or ovary? Describe the anthers, or pollen-boxes? What color are they? What color is the pollen? Do the anthers reach up to the stigma, or tip of seed-pod? Where is the nectar in tulips? How do the insects become covered with the pollen in reaching it? Do the flowers remain open during dark and stormy days? Why?

5. Describe the tulip stem and the leaves. Do the leaves completely encircle the flower stem at the base? Are their edges ruffled? In the sprouting plant, do these outer basal leaves enfold the leaves which grow higher on the stem? Are the leaves the same color above and below? What shade of green are they?

6. After the petals have dropped, study the seed-pod. Cut it cross-wise and note how many angles it has. How are these angles filled? Should tulips be allowed to ripen seeds? Why not?

7. Study a bulb of a tulip. There are outer and inner layers and a heart. What part of the plant do the outer layers make? What part does the center make? Where are the true roots of the tulip?

8. When should tulip bulbs be planted? How should you prepare the soil? How protect the bed during the winter? How long would it take to grow the flowers from the seed? Where are most of our bulbs grown? Do you know about the history of tulips?

Supplementary reading—Bulbs and Bulb-Culture, Peter Henderson; Plants and their Children, Dana, p. 216; Mary's Garden and How It Grew, Duncan, Ch. XXVI; Bulbs and How to Grow Them, Doubleday-Page Co.